Tag Archives: perfection

The Sermon, part 13: Be Perfect

Read Matthew 5:48

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You must remain completely loyal to the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 18:13 NRSV)

johnwesley
John Wesley preaching to the masses.

“But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NLT). Wait, what did Jesus just say? Did Jesus just tell his disciples, us included, that we are to be PERFECT? How can that be? Didn’t he, as the Son of God, know what Apostle Paul was going to write in Romans 3:23, “Everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (NLT)? Okay, I am being facetious here but, honestly, if all have sinned and no one is righteous, then how can anyone of us “be perfect”. It seems like either Jesus is out of touch or he’s a spiritual tyrant, demanding his “subjects” do the impossible.

In order to understand what is meant by this problematic command, “Be perfect”, we need to unpack our own understanding of the word “perfect” and the Western concept of “perfection” and juxtapose it with the Jewish understanding, which will give us a clew what Jesus was intending by this command. What makes interpreting Scripture difficult is that words often don’t translate perfectly from one language to the other, and this is a classic case of that.

Matthew, in writing Jesus’ words, is doing so in Greek. The Greek word for “perfect” is τελειος (pronounced tel’-i-os), meaning complete. This can be complete in terms of the completion of one’s tasks, it can refer to growth, as well as one’s moral character, among other meanings. The way this traditionally gets interpreted when the common person reads it in English, is that Jesus is calling for people to be morally perfect just as Gods is perfect. This misunderstanding causes frustration and/or it causes the reader to dilute the meaning to something less that what Jesus actually says.

Yet, it is important to note that, while Matthew is writing in Greek, he is pulling this word perfect from the LXX (the Greek compilation of the Hebrew Scriptures). The word “perfect” that Matthew is using can be found in passages such as Deuteronomy 18:13, which comes from the Hebrew word תָּמִים (pronounced taw-meem’). This word can mean “entire” (literally, figuratively, or morally). It can refer to integrity, being without blemish, being full, perfect, sincere, sound (as in sound judgment), undefiled, upright, and/or whole. One can see that, while the word “perfect” and “complete” do factor into both the Greek and the Hebrew words, there is a subtle, but important, difference between the two of them in terms of how to interpret them.

When looking at the context of Deuteronomy 18:13, one can see that being “blameless before lord” means to be “undefiled” in terms of following the Lord. Again, in context, the Israelites were being warned against only half-heartedly serving God and falling into the idolatrous practices of Gentiles, among whom they were living. So, in this context, the word is less speaking of moral perfection (in that one is morally “sinless” and, thefore, totally perfect in the sight of God), and is more or less calling God’s people into serving God wholeheartedly. In other words, don’t be tainted by the way the world does things; rather, be untainted and serve God wholeheartedly. Be wholly devoted to God, just as God is wholly devoted to you.

“You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This command, as you can see, is not demanding the impossible; rather, it is demanding what is due God: your whole heart! None of us are perfect, none of us are without sin, and Jesus is not demanding we try to attain perfection in that sense. Our Lord, is demanding that we devote ourselves wholly to God and be the antithesis to the WAY OF THE WORLD. With God’s help, we CAN and WILL attain such devotion.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Christian perfection, therefore, does not imply (as [some] seem to have imagined) an exemption either from ignorance or mistake, or infirmities or temptations. Indeed, it is only another term for holiness. They are two names for the same thing. Thus every one that is perfect is holy, and every one that is holy is, in the Scripture sense, perfect.” – John Wesley, Christian Perfection (Sermon 40.9)

PRAYER
Lord, set me apart and make me holy. Perfect me so that, in you, I am perfect. I want to serve you wholeheartedly and devote my life in your service, not the worlds. Amen.

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Impurity

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.” (Romans 6:19 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

fieryITHE WORKS OF THE FLESH: Impurity. My family loves to drink water; however, some in my family refuse to drink tap water. For them, tap water skeeves them out because it comes from the ground and into our cup through a “dirty” faucet. We cannot know what is in that water, and it tastes kind of “funny”; therefore, the perception is that the water is not pure. On the other hand, bottled water is perceived to be pure water. It is assumed by most people to be filtered of all impurities and, therefore, it is a “safe” and “clean” water to drink.

At one time, decades ago, people would have laughed at the idea of bottling and selling water. Who, in their right mind, will ever buy bottled water? I can get that for free right out of my tap, why would I pay for something that I can get for free? Yet, the bottled water industry (owned by-and-large by big “junk-food”/”soft-drink” corporations such as Coca-Cola, Nestle and Pepsi) has done a phenomenal job in marketing their product. Brands such as Nestle’s “Pure Life”, Poland Springs, Dasani, Fiji, Nirvana, and others all suggest that the water that is being sold is pure, natural, wild, exotic, heavenly, life-giving, etc. Yet, is this water any more pure than the water that ACTUALLY comes from one’s well in their backyard (provided you don’t drink city/town water)?

Whether or not bottled water is cleaner or more pure than ACTUAL water from an aquifer under the ground is debatable; however, what isn’t debatable is that water can be, and often is, contaminated by things that make it impure. While in it’s natural state water is pure and is the bare necessity to all living things, things from the outside can seep into it and make it impure. Like water, we too can be contaminated by outside sources. God created us pure and wholesome as beings capable of love, of compassion, of creativity, of growth, of respect, of stewardship, and of service. God created us with the ability to be vessels of life-giving water, a people who nurture and care for all living things, as well as for all of creation.

However, outside sources in the world have seeped into our lives and we know what they are. We have become glamoured by materialistic things, we have been charmed by greed, hatred, bitterness, vengeance, arrogance, narcissism, and selfishness. As a result, we have become contaminated and impure. We have become consumed by stuff that doesn’t belong with us and, as such, have become depraved. What’s more, have begun to define ourselves by our depravity in ignorance of what our pure and wholesome state is. This is NOT something we were born into, but something we’ve allowed to take over our lives and our world. Paul is calling us to allow God to purge us of our impurities. That can be a painful process; however, once it is done we will begin to experience what true and pure life IN GOD actually is! Are you ready to become filled, once again, with living water?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“One by one, little by little, moment by moment, a wise man should remove his own impurities, as a smith removes his dross from silver.” – The Buddha, The Dhammapada 18:239

PRAYER
Lord, help to purge me of my impurities so that I may once again experience and share pure and true life. Amen.

ANNOUNCEMENT: New Devo Series starting Wed., May 13, 2015

Good morning,

FleshVSpiritDuring the end of Advent, as we approached Christmas, I began a 7 and a half week devotional series on the 15 Ailments of the Church, based off of an address that Pope Francis I delivered to his Curia just in time for the holidays. Since then, I have entertained the idea of starting up a new devo series and have finally decided that the time is ripe for such a series to begin. With the fruitful season of Spring here, and Summer approaching, I thought it would be an appropriate time to start looking at the Apostle Paul’s writing on the Works of the Flesh and the Fruit of the Spirit. This devotional series will begin in just two days (5/13/15) and will last twelve weeks.  In this two part series, the devotion will start off discussing what Paul calls the “works of the flesh” (7 and 1/2 weeks), which will then lead into the second part…”the fruit of the Spirit.” (4 and 1/2 weeks). Even as I have begun writing these devotions, I am ever aware at how uncomfortable it can be talking about sin…and how challenging it can be talking about the kind of VIBRANT LIFE that God is calling us to live. I pray that you will open yourself up to the discussion, reflect on the Scriptures, and challenge yourself to be honest in your reflections and meditations. If you have questions or thoughts, as always, feel free to post them. Please keep them pertinent to the devo and appropriate for all ages. While I may or may not have answers to those questions, I certainly invite such engagement as that is what helps us all to grow together.  With all of that said, I pray that you find these next several weeks to be spiritually challenging, as well as spiritually nurturing.

Many Blessings,

Pastor Todd

I Will Fail You

Read Deuteronomy 32:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 NRSV)

ryanClarkHave you ever been failed by anyone? Have you ever put your trust in someone, almost elevating them to the status of “perfect”, only to be let down by how not “perfect” they actually are? Perhaps you have done this with celebrities? Perhaps you have done this with public officials, perhaps you have done this with pastors, with friends, and/or with family members. You think that they are wonderful people, that they can do no wrong, that they have your best-interest in mind, only to find out that they were not able to live up to all you thought that they were.

Have you ever failed anyone, including yourself? Have you ever had people put their trust in you, have you had people look up to you like you could do no wrong, only to let them down for one reason or the other, revealing to them how much wrong you could actually do? Have you ever been relied on, looked up to, and placed in a position that you felt you had to live up to, only to find out that your attempt, in the end, was an epic fail? My guess is that, like me, everyone can pretty much answer “yes” to each one of the above questions.

I have been listening to my favorite Christian metal band, “Demon Hunter”, a lot lately. On their latest album, “Extremist”, there is a song called, “I Will Fail You.” In that song, Ryan Clark sings, “I will fail you, of that I’m sure. I will remind you of the pain forevermore. And when my sins are just a memory, faith restored, I will fail you to the core.” In the video for the song, Clark is seen driving a car at night…like for the WHOLE VIDEO. As the song progresses, Clark goes from just driving, to lighting up a cigarette and smoking. Finally, he opens up a bottle of  pills and takes several of them, which are presumably narcotics. In the end, Clark becomes dazed and incoherent as headlights shine through his window. The video then pans to the passenger side of the car where a man who is bound, whose mouth is shut with duct tape, tries screaming to wake the drugged driver up. The video cuts to black; the video, like the driver and passenger in the car, has come to an abrupt end.

Clark, who is the frontperson and chief song writer for the band, explained the song by saying that, especially as Christian artists, there is a lot of pressure for them to be perfect. Because they are Christian, people expect them to be the ultimate role models, to be the staunchest Christians (as defined by each individual looking to them that way), and to live perfect lives. The reality is, however, that at some point they will be let down. Imperfection and the tendency to fail are a part of the human condition. What’s more, if we try to be perfect or elevate someone up to the status of perfection, we are totally setting ourselves up for epic failure.

The only one we should look to for perfection is God. While Christ called us to “be perfect as God is perfect,” Christ was not calling us to raise up anyone, ourselves included, as idols of perfection. Rather, Christ was calling us to strive to live into the essence of God, which is to have compassion, to be a peacemaker, to forgive others, to be agents of hope, healing and wholeness, to seek justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. If we do those things, if we seek after God’s righteousness rather than an unattainable human perfection, we will find that God’s righteousness will be flowing in and through us for the transformation of the world around us. I will fail you…but GOD WILL NOT!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.” – Benjamin Franklin

PRAYER
Lord, help me to place my faith in you for you will never fail me. Help me to grow in my love and compassion to others who, like me, embody the human condition. Amen.

The Happiest Place on Earth

Read Galatians 3:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Disney-World-in-Orlando-FloridaI just returned from my family vacation in Walt Disney World down in sunny Orlando, Florida. Let me tell you, there is nothing like a Florida vacation when you are in the middle of a record-cold and snowy winter. The skies were blue and clear, the humidity was non-existent, the temperature was 75-80 degrees, and the people were as friendly as can be. Quite frankly, with temperatures like that, it’s hard not to be friendly.

Speaking of friendly, have you ever been to Walt Disney World? The people working there are always the nicest, most friendly people you’ll ever meet. They all have big, bright smiles on their faces. They all look genuinely happy to be at work. They all treat the park goers (aka the customers) as if they can do no wrong. Walt Disney World is certainly the HAPPIEST place on earth. If any of the “cast” members are having a bad day at work, no one would ever be able to tell.

While reflecting theologically on Walt Disney World, one can’t help but notice that the place is almost too happy. It’s almost too clean. I mean, one never finds a shred of paper, bubble gum, straw or trace of any kind of litter around the park at all. That is because they employ a whole host of “happy” helpers to sweep it up. When one enters Walt Disney World, it is as if they are leaving the real world and entering the greatest utopia ever (that is unless you hate to wait on lines…then you might not find it a utopia at all).

I have heard people muse that it would be awesome if the church took a clue from Walt Disney World. In other words, some people think that the church would be a whole lot more successful in its outreach and its growth if it would just put a smile on its face and show the world that the church is a happy, happy place. If churches would just be happy and distance themselves from fighting, bickering, power playing, and judging then it would only make sense that more people would want to go to church, right?

Yet, is that the answer for the church? To put on an act of happiness? Should the church turn itself into a clean, wholesome, happy-go-lucky, unlittered, perfect-in-every-way stage. Should church members become cast members who only show their good sides and are given no place to show any other side but their good sides? Would this church even be called “real”, should such a church exist?

The fact of the matter is that Jesus never called for a clean church; rather, Jesus calls us, the church, to get our hands dirty. We are called to be present in the lives of others. We are called to express ourselves honestly, we are called to present others with the opportunity to express themselves honestly. We are not called to be perfect, but are being called toward perfection.

The truth is that it would not be healthy for the church to model itself after Walt Disney World, as that is not true to what the church really is. The church is a mess that God continues to work in and through. It is because we are a mess that we are kept humble and that we are continually reminded of our need for God to guide us through! While it certainly wouldn’t hurt for our church to be cheerful and joyful, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt for church members to be as hospitable as the Disney Cast Members are taught to be, we are not called to be an escape from the real world, but the hope of God brought into the midst of a real and messy world. It’s time to get our hands dirty!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections.” – St. Augustine of Hippo

PRAYER

Lord, rather than seeking to be perfect, I seek to be perfected by you. Show me where I err, and change me to what you will. Amen.